Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • “When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life…” 
    — Alexander Calder

    Imbued with exquisite poise, balletic dexterity, and elegant movement, Alexander Calder’s Two Red Petals in the Air encapsulates the artist’s era‐defining style and technical agility as sculptor of colour and metal. The work’s concise simplicity and compact form, perfectly calibrated to convey maximum impact with the greatest degree of effortlessness, exemplifies Calder’s ability to synthesise colour, form, and movement in a wholly unique fashion to transform the course of 20th century sculpture.


    Suspended from an intricate wire framework, the coloured elements and discrete shapes in Two Red Petals in the Air float in consummate counterbalance to one another, articulating a poetic three‐dimensional vision; with the slightest breath of wind, the forms are set in motion, commanding time as the fourth dimension. Created in 1958, Two Red Petals in the Air reveals Calder at the height of his technical and conceptual powers within a period of rich artistic and cultural inspiration; between 1953 and 1957, Calder travelled to Europe, the Middle East, India, and South America, representing the United States at the São Paulo Art Biennial and presenting projects for UNESCO, the American Consulate in Frankfurt, and the Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi. Arising from this ground‐breaking period of innovation and accomplishment, Two Red Petals in the Air is exemplary of the artist’s inimitably significant oeuvre.





     Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying, 1915

    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York


     “Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely existing arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion.” 
    — Alexander Calder

    Showcasing Calder at his most technically adept and conceptually inventive, Two Red Petals in the Air comprises the most important essentials of the artist’s aesthetic, demonstrating complex cadence and sublime balance. The titular red petals perch whimsically atop the mobile, their sprightly disposition balanced by the serenity of the single blue element and the splayed branches of cascading shaped yellow discs, while the two wider horizontal ebony elements anchor the aerial composition.


    Presenting a dynamic experience for the viewer, the slightest waft of air sets the lyrical structure in gracefully gliding organic rotation: while each biomorphic element pursues its own path, the whole sculpture remains in choreographed cohesion. As Calder’s chosen palette of vibrant primary hues floats within an ethereal ballet of delicate beauty, we are reminded simultaneously of the organic and the architectonic; here, the red petals evoke nature that is at once all‐powerful and fragile, demonstrating Calder’s profound appreciation for nature in parallel to his extraordinary talents for engineering. Presenting a transcendent interplay between nature and abstraction, stillness and motion, the work culminates in an enchanting synthesis of painterly and sculptural idioms. 



     Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1928

    Collection of the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Germany


    Born in Pennsylvania in 1898 to an artistic family of sculptors and painters, Calder first graduated in 1923 with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken before entering the Art Students League. Determined to pave his own way as an artist, Calder experimented with different methods and mediums and travelled frequently to Paris, developing a lifelong friendship with Joan Miró and an apprenticeship with Marcel Duchamp.


    It was in 1930, during his now legendary visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in Paris, that Calder was first inspired to think about the kinetic possibilities of art. He began to produce abstract sculptures that freely moved through space as early as 1931; showing these works at the Galerie Vignon in Paris in 1932, Calder called them “mobiles”, using the term coined by Duchamp a year earlier upon his encounter of Calder’s works. From then on, Calder dedicated his career to revolutionising the ability of sculpture to connect with not just viewer but its environment, seeking to ever‐expand the possibilities of motion in sculpture. 


     “Although Calder was not quite the first or the last artist to set sculpture in motion, he sent volumes moving through space with more conviction and imaginative power – with more eloquence and elegance – than any other artist has. These are the works of a poet, but a poet guided by the steady instincts of a scientist.” 
    — Jed Perl


    Joan Miró, L'étoile matinale (Morning Star), 1940 

    Collection of the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
    © 2021 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 


    Duchamp once remarked that the art of Calder was 'pure joie de vivre. [It] is the sublimation of a tree in the wind.' i Unparalleled in its poetry and lyricism, Calder’s works utilise principles of balance, aerodynamics, and weight distribution through meticulous calculation and execution, allowing them to interact freely and independently with their environment. Accordingly, the sculptures are uniquely and inimitably anchored in the laws of science, art, and nature; as the poet Jean‐Paul Sartre declared: 'What they may do at a given moment will be determined by the time of day, the sun, the temperature or the wind. The object is thus always half way between the servility of a statue and the independence of natural events; each of its evolutions is the inspiration of a moment.'ii Calder’s genius lies in his unique skill in choreographing his sculptures’ movements while at the same time allowing them freedom and independent life; in the words of Penelope Curtis: 'Calder will find a way of making the spell last, embedding the unpredictable, contradictory, (and often syncopated) movements of animals and people into his works.'iii 




    Calder in his Connecticut studio, 1955


    Highly sought after for their outstanding craftsmanship and timeless beauty, Calder’s mobiles represent the very paradigm of his genius, and works such as Two Red Petals in the Air spring forth in graceful motion as an enduring testament to Calder’s extraordinary creative vision. The 1950s in particular was a pivotal decade in Calder’s practice; working in parallel to the heyday of the New York School and American Abstract Expressionism, Calder’s deliberately distanced and unique practice is all the more impressive. Utterly enthralling in its precise craftsmanship, brilliant hues, harmonic beauty, and refined delicacy, the present work exquisitely embodies the technical skill and imaginative genius of Calder, attesting to his success in bringing form, colour, and line into the fourth dimension. i  



    i Marcel Duchamp, ‘Alexander Calder’, Collection of the Société Anonyme, New Haven 1950, online
    ii Jean‐Paul Sartre, 'The Mobiles of Calder', Alexander Calder, exh. cat., Buchholz Gallery, New York, 1947
    iii Penelope Curtis, 'Performance of Post‐performance', exh. cat., Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, London, Tate Modern, 2015, p. 17

    • Provenance

      Perls Galleries, New York
      Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Hirsh, Beverly Hills
      Newspace Gallery, Los Angeles
      Collection of A. Alfred Taubman (acquired from the above in October 1977)
      The Collection of A. Alfred Taubman: Masterworks, Sotheby's, New York, November 4, 2015, lot 3
      Private Collection, UK
      Phillips, New York, 18 May 2017, lot 36
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977-1979 (on loan)

    • Artist Biography

      Alexander Calder

      American • 1898 - 1976

      Alexander Calder worked as an abstract sculptor and has been commonly referred to as the creator of the mobile. He employed industrious materials of wire and metal and transformed them into delicate geometric shapes that respond to the wind or float in air. Born into a family of sculptors, Calder created art from childhood and moved to Paris in 1926, where he became a pioneer of the international avant-garde. In addition to his mobiles, Calder produced an array of public constructions worldwide as well as drawings and paintings that feature the same brand of abstraction. Calder was born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania.

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Two Red Petals in the Air

incised with the artist's monogram and date 'CA 58' on the largest black element
sheet metal, wire, and paint
101.6 x 137.2 x 50.8 cm. (40 x 54 x 20 in.)
Executed in 1958, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York under application number A07334.

Full Cataloguing

HK$16,000,000 - 20,000,000 

Sold for HK$20,820,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021